Keselowski Seeks To Avoid Another ‘Flop’ In 2014

Brad Keselowski didn’t have a very successful 2013 season as he failed to make the Chase. However, he thinks he can return to form in 2014.

Daytona Beach, FL-Brad Keselowski was a huge hit in 2012 but in 2013, well, he was a flop.

Maybe “flop” is too harsh a word but the fact is Keselowski, who drives Fords for Penske Racing, won the 2012 NASCAR Sprint Cup championship only to finish 14h in points last year – which means he was not one of the 13 drivers admitted into the Chase for the Sprint Cup.

Reckon Keselowski would call that a flop.

“It definitely wasn’t good, but that was last year,” said Keselowski, who won only one race and finished 16 times among the top 10 in 2013.  “Much like what I did in 2012 didn’t count for much in 2013, and what you do in 2013 doesn’t count for much for 2014.  You have to reset.”

Speaking of “reset,” NASCAR has done plenty of that for 2014. It includes new qualifying and rules structures  – not to mention an altered Chase, which, among many other things, will consist of 16 drivers.

“I think almost every one of the changes benefits my team as a whole and is part of the reason for my optimism,” Keselowski said. “Well, maybe with the exception of the added spoiler to the back of the car.  That’s probably the only change of anything that’s been done, and there have been a lot of them, that I didn’t like.

Keselowski won the 2012 NASCAR championship in only his second year with Penske Racing. He won five races that season, the most of his career.

“I think if you want an explanation as to how I think we’d be here for a long time, but I think all the changes are beneficial for us.  The Chase changes, I think, fit my driving style the best.

“The qualifying changes definitely fit me very well, so I think all of them are really positive for our team.”

Keselowski admits that 2013 started out well enough, but some NASCAR-enforced alterations to his Ford helped create a competitive downturn.

“The new rear suspension package that we came out with at Texas, getting that taken away from us was big, and then everyone else developed some packages that we, quite frankly, weren’t allowed to do,” Keselowski said. “That put us behind speed-wise and speed is kind of the backbone of this sport.

“And then we missed the ball on some execution, whether that was speeding down pit road or parts that fell off the car or pit stops.  So we kind of hit the perfect storm over the summer and that’s all it took without getting a race win early in the season when we were very capable of doing so.”

“I think once we hit the Chase period and re-developed our cars I thought we were really strong.  Again, we ran into some of the same issues, but on a much smaller basis.”

Keselowski first captured everyone’s attention with his surprise victory at Talladega in James Finch’s underfinanced Chevrolet in 2009. That helped the Rochester Hills, Mich., native land a ride with Penske the following year.

One trait that has galvanized Keselowski is his willingness to speak his mind. He’s never been timid – on the track or off. A driver who tweets during a race and causes NASCAR to rule against the practice, and monitor Twitter, is no wallflower by any means.

It’s been suggested NASCAR has tried to put a muzzle on Keselowski, so to speak, but the driver, who was an excellent ambassador for the sport last year, doesn’t agree –well, somewhat.

“I don’t have a muzzle on my face right now, but maybe I should have,” said Keselowski, who has been fined many times by NASCAR. “I’m in an increasingly difficult position as a champion of this sport to try to convey the very strong situation and the health of this sport, which, although it could always be better, is not terrible.

“I think quite a few back channels have opened up within NASCAR over the last six to eight months that have given me the ability to not have to go to the media to get something done.

“That fits my personal and professional agenda, and out of respect for that I think it maybe creates a situation where what might look like a muzzle to you or to the outside is perhaps more a moment of opportunity I just don’t want to piss away.

“Either that or it’s just being so damn annoying that people start listening to you – one of the two.”

It’s obvious Keselowski doesn’t want to, uh, “piss away” his chances in 2014.

“I felt we had a really strong run a lot of times and won Charlotte, and were really strong and competitive at Texas and Homestead and Chicago,” he said. “But not quite enough to be where we want.

“We made a lot of changes in that regard internally to try to clean up those misgivings, but I don’t think we’re very far off.  I thought when we ended 2013 that we ended in a very similar fashion that we ended 2011, which set us up for a strong title run in 2012.

“So I’m carrying that optimism into this year.”

 

 

 

2012 NASCAR Season Had Surprises, Of Course, And More Are Ahead In 2013

Certainly one of the most surprising developments of 2012 was Brad Keselowski’s (right) first career Sprint Cup championship. The title was also the first for his team owner, Roger Penske.

The 2012 NASCAR Sprint Cup season, like all others that have preceded it, had it share of elation and frustration, success and failure and a good measure of surprising developments.

Also, 2012 had a thing or two none of us had ever seen before, and are unlikely to see again. Juan Pablo Montoya’s fiery encounter with a jet dryer at Daytona comes to mind here.

It was mostly in competition that we saw the unexpected, the unusual, success and failure – well, perhaps not entire failure but certainly performances that did not live up to expectations.

And we also saw performances that soared past our expectations.

There are at least two examples of this and my opinion is that the most notable is the overall, breakout performance by Michael Waltrip Racing.

MWR has never been considered a championship caliber team (I’m sure team members will disagree). So for it to place two drivers in the Chase and have one enjoy a “comeback” season to finish second in the final point standings is something very much unanticipated.

Clint Bowyer came over to MWR from Richard Childress Racing, a move necessitated by a lack of sponsorship and which ended a seven-year relationship.

Bowyer will be the first to tell you that he really had no idea what he was getting himself into.

He knew hardly anyone at MWR and no sense of which direction the team would go.

Bowyer had won five races during his tenure with RCR and made it into the top 10 in points in three of five seasons.

Therefore, it was only natural that he wondered if he could approach such performances as the new man at MWR.

Well, he did – and then some.

Bowyer won three races, easily made the Chase and at Homestead, the final event of the season, he finished second to Jeff Gordon.

That allowed him to ease past Jimmie Johnson to take second place in the point standings. That was not only his career-best finish, it was the highest ever achieved by a MWR driver.

To compliment Bowyer’s achievement, MWR teammate Martin Truex Jr., also made the Chase.

Perhaps one of the most disappointing performances of 2012 was given by Tony Stewart. The 2011 Sprint Cup champ never contended for a title in the past season.

He was disappointed that he did not win a race or finish higher than 11th in the standings, but he did qualify for the 10-race “playoff” for the first time since 2007 and the first time with MWR.

MWR’s performance in 2012 clearly indicates it is a team on the rise. More than that, it overcame much of the rather shallow opinions most observers had expressed over recent years.

For 2013 the team’s task is simple: Gather the momentum and use it to create a better season.

I am one of many who suggested that team owner Roger Penske and driver Brad Keselowski would not be a championship contender in 2012.

After all, despite all his efforts with those who drove and worked for him, he had never claimed a title.

And Keselowski? He was in only his third full season of Sprint Cup competition, all with Penske.

As I’ve said more than once maybe we should have seen it coming. By that I mean, Keselowski’s credentials as a driver had steadily improved since his union with Penske.

In 2011 Keselowski won three races and accumulated 14 top-10 finishes to power his way into fifth place in the final point standings.

What he did in 2012 was simple: He got better. He won five times with 23 finishes among the top 10. He was constantly among the point leaders and sealed the championship in Homestead.

Although few thought it would happen, Penske won his first Sprint Cup title and Keselowski became only the third driver to win a championship in his third full season. Dale Earnhardt and Jeff Gordon were the others.

Even though Penske has left Dodge for Ford, no one will overlook Keselowski in 2013. As it is for every team in a coming season if Penske Racing can adapt quickly to the new Ford, there’s no reason to think Keselowski can’t make it two in a row.

Seems odd to say, but by its standards, Hendrick Motorsports could have had a better season.

Don’t get me wrong. What it accomplished was significant. It put all four of its teams in the Chase, had one driver, five-type champ Johnson, finish a single point out of second place and all four drivers won races.

But with a little touch of fortune here and there, it could have been better for Hendrick.

Kasey Kahne, for example, was expected to flourish. He did win two races but that was fewer than most expected. However, he finished a career-high fourth in points.

Kahne put together a solid second half to earn one of two Chase wildcards. He then rallied from 11th to fourth in the 10-race playoff.

With that strong finish, Kahne might be a contender next season.

But of all the Hendrick drivers – or almost any driver, for that matter – Dale Earnhardt Jr. had a most dramatic 2012 season.

He had to be frustrated over the conclusion. A pair of concussions sidelined him for two races, eliminating any title hopes. However, Earnhardt Jr. had his best season at Hendrick and his best in eight years.

Prior to the Chase, Earnhardt Jr. not only easily made the field but was a serious championship contender.

He won for the first time in four years and was in the top three in points most of the season and led the standings for two weeks in August.

The “Junior Nation” recognized Earnhardt Jr.’s resurgence in 2012 and I have no doubt it hopes for better things in 2013. Frankly, I would not be surprised if it got them.

Other things that might have raised our eyebrows in 2012 were the lackluster – by their standards – performances by Carl Edwards and Tony Stewart, the 2011 champ. Count on them as two guys looking for redemption in 2013.

As it has always been, NASCAR fans are always eager to see what might evolve in a coming season.

There’s plenty on the menu: How will teams, and NASCAR, adapt to new 2013 models? Can certain drivers, like Joey Logano and Matt Kenseth, adapt with new teams? Is there yet another upstart contender out there? Will we some of the veterans return to winning form?

There’s more, of course, a lot more.

In the end, anticipation and expectation are two things that make NASCAR fun – pure and simple.

On a personal note, thanks to all of you who have visited Motorsports Unplugged over the years. Hopefully you have been entertained and informed.

New content resumes at the first of 2013. Until then, best wishes for a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The 2013 Models Present Teams, And NASCAR, With Wealth Of New Challenges

Matt Kenseth not only faces the challenge of competing in a new car, a Toyota, in 2013, he’s also the newest member of Joe Gibbs Racing.

In 2013 it will be sort of a clean slate for NASCAR. An entirely new fleet of car models will compete on the Sprint Cup circuit, the Toyota Camry, the Ford Fusion and the Chevrolet SS.

These cars are intended to be very fast, of course, while at the same bear a more similar appearance to their street counterparts – which, among other things, is intended to help fans more closely identify with each model.

Gone from NASCAR is Dodge, which, ironically, claimed the 2012 Manufacturers Championship with Penske Racing and driver Brad Keselowski.

That said, there is always uncertainty when teams adopt new car models. Changes and adaptations, some big and some small, are always present.

I might add that has been the case every time NASCAR has made any competitive alterations, be they in car models, engine displacement, aerodynamics, wheelbase size and so forth.

So it follows that the team, or teams, that make the quickest adaptations to the new cars, and the rules that come with them, will be the first to gain a competitive edge.

Boy, I have a great grasp for the obvious, don’t I?

But it is a fact.

We’ve seen it countless times. It happened as recently as the coming of the “Car Of Tomorrow” a few seasons ago.

That diabolically different car – which only vaguely resembled anything we saw on the street – had the vast majority of teams bamboozled.

They didn’t know what to do with it. They kept fooling around with various setups and things of the sort – which put some of them in hot water with NASCAR – until, slowly, a few began to solve the mystery.

It seemed one team, Hendrick Motorsports, found an advantage and for a period of time put a very competitive COT on the track.

But, as it almost always happens in NASCAR, its rivals caught up and were a competitive match.

Brad Keselowski (right) the 2012 champion, will drive Fords next season after Dodge’s pullout from NASCAR. He’ll also have a new teammate in Joey Logano.

Since that time teams have been, for the most part, relatively equal. Now I’m not saying one didn’t have an edge here and there because it did. But I do believe that where it did have an advantage, its rivals held sway elsewhere. So things were reasonably balanced.

I remember that when the COT was introduced I said it would be only a matter of weeks before the teams had it figured out.

Turns out it was a matter of months.

But I think there is ample evidence that, indeed, they did it. And I think they will also get the measure of the 2013 models. Uh, I think I’ll refrain from saying how long it may take.

As said, teams have always had to find a way to adjust to NASCAR changes, whatever they may be. But it’s highly likely that an entirely new car model, which we’ll see in 2013, is going to present a myriad of challenges.

NASCAR has already provided organizations opportunities to adjust, the latest being the test sessions at Charlotte Motor Speedway on Dec. 11-12.

So far teams have been very cautious. They have proceeded slowly and, to me, have tried to be very precise when it comes to analyzing the information they’ve gathered – and it hasn’t been all that much.

They will learn more during added test sessions scheduled into 2013.

For more than one team testing will provide clues to something beyond just a new car. Champion Keselowski, for example, will have to deal with an entirely new manufacturer.

So will Matt Kenseth. He’ll have a different manufacturer but, because he has ended his long tenure with Roush Fenway Racing, he will also have to amend to a new organization, Joe Gibbs Racing, and a new crew and crew chief.

Keselowski will race Fords in 2013. Kenseth will compete in a Toyota.

They are fully aware of the challenges.

“It’s hard to get a great read on the whole manufacturer change because, obviously, it’s a different car,” Keselowski said. “But I think all the signs are there that we have the potential to be just as strong, if not stronger, than we were last year, which is very, very encouraging. We still have to work for it and make it happen.

“We’ve got a lot of work to do. We’re only a half-a-day into two really important days, not only for Penske Racing but for the sport itself and, hopefully, we can
continue to show progress.”

Keselowski will have a new teammate in 2013 as Joey Logano moves over from Gibbs. That, too, will require adjustment.

Keselowski is confident.

“I think Joey has the ability to unload at a place and just instantly be fast and that’s not my style,” he said. “It’s something that I would like to add to my arsenal because there are times where that’s really, really helpful, so those are some of the things I look
at.”

As for Kenseth, the 2004 champion, he will readily admit that his adjustments are going to be obviously plentiful. They not only include a new car, but also an entirely new team.

“A lot of the guys have been around for a long time so I know who they are and I’ve spent a little time over at the shop,” he said. “I certainly don’t know them as good as I’m going to or want to and all of that.

“So, yeah, it was different. I’ve got to be honest, it was probably the first time I’ve been nervous in a race car – getting in there and going out for the first time – in as long as I can remember.”

As for that new car, a Toyota, Kenseth takes a cautious approach, as do many others.

“I don’t know what the rules are going to be for sure,” he said. “I don’t have any idea how much they’re going to change or not change. That’s more of a NASCAR call than ours.

“They haven’t really had us testing anything yet and so I’m not sure how different they will be when we come back.”

At this admittedly early point in the development of the 2013 cars, it is reasonable to say teams are not certain of what they have, or of what they many eventually have.

Some will find that sooner than others, for whatever reasons.

In time, these teams will be the ones to move to the forefront and gain a competitive edge.

But, if we look to the past, it doesn’t seem likely NASCAR will let them have it for very long.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Johnson, Keselowski Will Likely Slug It Out Until It’s All Over

Jimmie Johnson won for the fifth time this year, and second in a row in the Chase, at Texas to widen his lead over Brad Keselowski in a very close fight for the championship.

Perhaps this is a near-perfect championship fight for the NASCAR Sprint Cup title:

Have at least two drivers slug it out as if they were boxers in a heavyweight title bout. They feverishly trade punches and get a bit bloodied. But when the fight is over both are still standing and one wins by the slightest of margins.

After the AAA Texas 500 at Texas Motor Speedway it seems, for now, that is exactly what we have.

Points leader Jimmie Johnson won the race when he passed Brad Keselowski, who was a mere two points in arrears when the race started, on the last lap to secure his second straight win in the Chase For The Sprint Cup.

As a result Johnson is now seven points in front of Keselowski as he seeks to win his sixth championship in the last seven years. There are only two races remaining in the Chase – in other words, there are two more rounds left in this heavyweight fight.

And either man could win.

At Texas, Johnson did virtually everything he needed to do to secure a title. He not only won the race, he led the most laps (168) to gather valuable bonus points which, in turn, allowed him to pad his margin over Keselowski.

In a fight for a championship, it doesn’t get much better than that.

Keselowski’s runnerup finish may have cost him points to Johnson, but he is very likely slug it out to the end.

Still, the issue was in doubt until the very end of the race.

Keselowski, who drives for Penske Racing, was in control of the race by lap 313 of 334. When the race’s eighth caution period began on lap 322, caused by debris on the track following Kasey Kahne’s meeting with the wall, Johnson led just one lap after the restart on lap 327.

Keselowski, running as fast as he had throughout the race – and with only two fresh tires – retook the lead and was in front of Johnson and third-place Kyle Busch.

But with just three laps to go, Mark Martin crashed after a brush with Carl Edwards, which brought out another caution period and set up a green-white-checkered finish.

On the restart Johnson took the advantage. Using an outside line, he whisked past Keselowski, who seemed to slip a bit and may have decided it was best to let up rather than be involved in an incident.

Johnson, who said the restarts with Keselowski were “very physical,” admitted that he gestured a warning notice to his rival prior to the final dash. “There is no sense in taking us both out in the process,” he said. “If he was taking me out, you can count on the fact that I would have been on the gas and trying to take him with me.

“You know, it just doesn’t need to come down to that.  Brad, also, after the race, came into victory lane and shook my hand.

“The cool thing about it is we walked right up to that line, got right to the edge, and then it stopped. He showed a very classy move coming to victory lane and shaking my hand afterwards, too.”

Keselowski admitted that on the last restart that, for him, discretion was the better part of valor.

“Yeah, I felt like we were just going to wreck,” he said. “I wasn’t looking to be the guy that wrecked him poorly.

“I didn’t really enjoy the last time that happened with Kyle (Busch) over here, and I don’t think he did either.  He might not believe that, but that’s just not the way you want to run a race, and not the way I want to win a championship.

“That was pretty much the only choice I had, was to put ourselves in a bad position like I did before. I felt lucky to survive that one.”

Johnson’s victory was his fifth of the year for Hendrick Motorsports, which ties him with Keselowski and Denny Hamlin for the most this season.

He has now won two consecutive poles and races in the Chase, first at Martinsville, where he moved past Keselowski in the standings, and now at Texas.

Clint Bowyer finished sixth at Texas and remains in third place in the standings, but he is 36 points in arrears.

He is not officially out of championship contention – only Kevin Harvick and Dale Earnhardt Jr., 11th and 12th, respectively, are.

But in reality, it’s down to Johnson and Keselowski, as it has been for the past few weeks.

And both drivers know it.

“It’s my dream to run for a Sprint Cup championship,” Keselowski said. “Certainly I would have liked to have won today, but I feel like we’re fighting the good fight and doing some great things as a team that I’m really, really proud of.

“Obviously, it’s not going to come easy.  We’re going to have to win one of the last two races.

“But anything worth doing in life shouldn’t come easy and I appreciate the efforts of the people that I’m around to make it happen.”

Despite his achievements in the Chase, Johnson continues to say he can’t afford to let up. He, like Keselowski, knows that anything can happen and thus is not willing to say a title is in the bag.

Which, incidentally, is certainly the case.

Chad Knaus, Johnson’s crew chief, agrees. He knows Keselowski and team will keep up the good fight.

“Oh, yeah they’ve done a good job,” he said. “You have to realize that’s Penske Racing.  It’s not like it’s a slouch team. Those guys have been building good cars for a long time.

“I think Paul (Wolfe) is a great crew chief and Brad is a really good driver. So I think they’ll be there through the end.”

“We have a small amount of control, but we’re definitely in control.” Johnson added. “We don’t have to catch up or make up any points. But seven points is nothing to feel comfortable about and to relax on.

“We’re still going to go into Phoenix and act as if we’re behind and go in there to try to sit on the pole and win the race again.”

And so the slugfest continues – and is likely to do so until the final bell.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

After Wild Pocono, Brad Keselowski Still Gets Championship Nod

With his fourth place finish in the Pennsylvania 400 at Pocono, Brad Keselowski advanced from ninth to seventh in the NASCAR Sprint Cup point standings and tightened his grip on a place in the Chase.

LONG POND, Pa. – The rain-shortened Pennsylvania 400 was, obviously, a most unusual race.

NASCAR Sprint Cup points leader Dale Earnhardt Jr. suffered transmission failure and his incredible streak of consistency – he completed every lap in 20 straight races this year – comes to an end.

Race-dominant Jimmie Johnson, who rarely makes mistakes, gets loose on the last restart and the ensuing wreck, among other things, takes out Matt Kenseth, the driver who only a week ago lost the points lead.

As a result, a crippled Earnhardt somehow remains the points leader. Go figure.

While you’re at it, figure this: Jeff Gordon, so desperately in need of a victory to have any chance at making the Chase, is the leader when storms rake Pocono yet again.

The bad weather forces an end to the race after 98 of scheduled 160 laps. Improbably, Gordon is the winner.

And just like that … he’s launched from oblivion to No. 2 in the “wildcard” standings, which means that if the Chase started this weekend, Gordon would be in it.

But there are now five races before the Chase begins. To assure his participation, Gordon has work to do.

Jeff Gordon was the winner of the rain-shortened Pocono race and as such, he won for the first time this year and vastly improved his chances for making the Chase and a chance at a fifth career title.

On the other hand, it would appear Brad Keselowski doesn’t have much to worry about.

The driver of the Penske Racing Dodge finished fourth in the Pennsylvania 400, which moved him from ninth to seventh in points. He’s just one point behind Tony Stewart.

But, like Stewart, Keselowski has three victories this season and therefore is all but assured a place in the Chase.

But let’s go a step further.

I am on record as saying that Keselowski will win the 2012 championship.

That may seem like I’m going out on a limb with defending champion Stewart and five-time titlist Johnson currently tied with Keselowski with three wins this season to date, but I can’t shake the feeling.

Keselowski, of course, tested my fortitude by qualifying 31st for the Pennsylvania 400. This has been an all-too-often scenario for the Penske No. 2 team.

As Keselowski noted, “I didn’t get a very strong qualifying run but that’s kind of been the story of our season.”

But what Keselowski and team lack in qualifying they seem to make up for in competition – as was the case at Pocono.

“The most important thing is race trim and the speed you have there,” he said. “Also it’s the execution that you have out of your team and, certainly, the driver and I’m proud of where we’re at in those categories.”

Pocono is one track on which Keselowski has always felt comfortable. He won there a year ago despite a broken ankle but finished 18th in June.

“For obvious reasons so it’s nice to return to a track where you’ve had success,” he said. “It just makes you feel even that much better about the outlook for the weekend.”

Keselowski explained that returning to a track for the second time means his team “always gets better.”

“I don’t think this weekend will be any exception,” he added prior to the Pennsylvania 400. And he was right.

“You know, we had a decent run coming together the last time we were here with the new pavement,” Keselowski said. “We had some electronics issues that caught us and we just never got a shot to fully recover from that.

“I think you know all things being even and not having those issues we could have had a top-five, top-10 day and I think we’re even more competitive this time around.

“So you know for those reasons I always look forward to coming back to tracks in the summer stretch.”

What impresses me about Keselowski is the depth of talent in the driver and the momentum he’s carried over from last year. He is a force with which to be reckoned this season.

As for his successes this season, Keselowski said, “I’m part of a competitive team. I enjoy going to the race track. It’s a good time in my life.”

With what looks to be a guaranteed spot in the Chase, and a strong position once there, Keselowski’s future continues to look bright.

But he adds, “The only thing I really am concerned about now is winning a race and winning another race and then another race. That’s what drives me before the Chase starts.”

With the 31st qualifying position it might have appeared a good finish would be difficult today, but Keselowski has proven throughout the season that a tough starting position will not keep him down.

He proved it again in the Pennsylvania 400.

His resiliency and his season record make him my favorite for this year’s title.

 

 

 

 

Barring Disaster, Brad Keselowski Is Championship Contender

Among other things, Brad Keselowski got excellent help from his team, which did good work in the pits but also prepared a backup car for the race, which Keselowski won to earn his third victory of the season.

At the very least, Brad Keselowski had to leave Kentucky with the contented feeling that in 2012, he has it made.

That’s because the Penske Racing driver now knows that, barring a competitive collapse of major proportions, he is going to make the Chase – and have a chance to win the NASCAR Sprint Cup championship.

The 28-year-old Keselowski won the Quaker State 400 at Kentucky to earn his seventh career victory in his 106th start.

More important it was his third win of the season, more than any other driver, and it virtually assured him a position in the Chase as a “wildcard” driver – at the very least.

Keselowski, at No. 10, is among the top 10 in points who will be admitted into the Chase. But his three wins serve as a bedrock insurance policy.

Under the Chase’s format the two “wildcard” entries will come from those drivers with the most wins and who are ranked in the top 20.

It’s obvious Keselowski’s position is all but unassailable. Yes, he can miss the Chase but that would take a massive implosion over the course of just nine races.

Based upon the season he’s had so far, it’s more likely Keselowski will rise in the point standings.

“Who is leading right now with the most points doesn’t mean a thing,” said Keselowski, who has seven top-10 finishes this season. “The only thing that means anything is where you are going to restart when the Chase begins. That’s going to be based on who is in the top 10 and who has the most wins. That’s all that matters.”

Keselowski built a big lead during the final long green-flag run and retained enough fuel to win the race at Kentucky, only the second Sprint Cup event at the 1.5-mile track.

He finished well ahead of Kasey Kahne, the Hendrick Motorsports driver who earned his eighth top-10 finish of the year and his first at Kentucky.

Denny Hamlin was third, Dale Earnhardt Jr. fourth, Jeff Gordon fifth and Jimmie Johnson was sixth, which meant all four Hendrick competitors finished among the top six.

Carl Edwards, who nearly won the Sprint Cup title last year, had to pit late at Kentucky and finished 20th. Winless this season and ranked 11th in points, he is in danger of not making the Chase.

Keselowski was forced to go to a backup car after he wrecked his Dodge in a crash with Juan Pablo Montoya during practice – an incident that still irked Keselowski after his victory.

“My guys put together a backup car in 100-degree heat in less than an hour,” Keselowski said. “Not even an hour. It was 40 minutes.

“That’s what badasses do and that is what got us to victory lane.

“During practice, well, I don’t like being pushed around and that’s what I felt happened on the track. I hate it. Can’t stand it and won’t stand for it.”

Keselowski took the lead for the last time following a restart on lap 212. The race’s fourth caution period began on lap 210 after Ryan Newman and Joey Logano were involved in a crash in the second turn.

Keselowski led the final 56 laps. He was the race leader three times for 68 laps, second to Kyle Busch, winner of the inaugural Kentucky race a year ago who led five times for 118 laps. But Busch finished 10th due to a broken shock.

After his victory at Michigan, which ended a 143-race losing streak, Earnhardt Jr. was viewed as a championship contender.

His run at Kentucky was his 13th among the top 10, which ties him with teammate Johnson for the most this season.

It also moved Earnhardt Jr. into second place in the point standings, only 11 points behind Matt Kenseth, the lame duck driver at Roush Fenway Racing who finished seventh at Kentucky.

Earnhardt’s Chase position seems safe and, in fact, has improved largely because he has avoided the “summer swoon” which has plagued him in the past – and resulted in a tumble in the standings.

For example, in races 13-17 last year Earnhardt Jr. had finishes of second, sixth, 21st, 41st and 19th, respectively.

Over the same races this year, his results have obviously been better. In races 13-17, he has been fourth, eighth, first, 23rd and fourth, respectively.

All of the drivers currently ranked among the top 10 in points seem to have a good grip on Chase entry. However, two of them, sixth-ranked Kevin Harvick and Martin Truex Jr., in eighth place, do not have at least one insurance victory.

The present “wildcard” contenders include first candidate Busch, who is 12th in points, 42 out of 10th place, with one victory.

Kahne, 14th in points is next in line, followed by Newman, 15th in points and Logano, 16th in points. All have one victory and 463 points each – 74 out of the top 10.

Carl Edwards, who tied Tony Stewart in points following the Chase last year, but lost the tiebreaker, five wins to one, is presently 11th in points but ranks as No. 5 in the “wildcard” selection because he does not have a win this season.

Edwards was running among the top five at Kentucky when he was forced to pit for fuel with five laps to go and fell to 20th, one lap down.

It was a very disappointing finish for Edwards, who must, over the course of nine races, move into the top 10 or win at least two races to assure himself a spot in the Chase.

“We hoped there would be a caution at the end, but there wasn’t,” said Edwards, who said he would’ve pitted on the previous set of stops but feared he would miss the commitment line. “It is time for us to get it in gear. I am real frustrated, Bob (Osborne, crew chief) is real frustrated and I know we can do this.

“We ran as well as any Ford out here tonight. At the end, I think with some fuel we would have had a chance to win it.

“We need to get this in gear. We need to go.”

 

 

 

 

Tough Handicap Chore By Numbers – Fantasy Insight Kentucky

Carl Edwards

New tracks on the schedule are difficult to forecast by the numbers due to the lack of – numbers. Last year at this time I wasn’t even 100% positive which “Track Type” category should include Kentucky Speedway. No two “Cookie Cutter” tracks are identical but usually there are similar enough characteristics to be fairly certain about the decision.

It has more to do with how the track races rather than the blue prints and degree of banking. Banking in the corners at Kentucky is 14 degrees versus 15 at Kansas and 18 at Chicagoland. That compares to 24 degrees at Atlanta and 20 at Las Vegas.

The educated guess was that Kentucky would race similar to Kansas and Chicago therefore it was added to that “Track Type” group. Last year some special tweaking of the “Horses for Courses” formula was needed to estimate driver performance at Kentucky. Race winner Kyle Busch had a solid 261 power rating and Matt Kenseth, who had the top rating last year, had a strong race. Based on that data the assumption of track type has remained for this season.

Engine issues at Joe Gibbs Racing have me concerned and that is why I will avoid JGR teams on my fantasy lineup until I see proof they have solved their issues. As I mentioned a few weeks ago fantasy race fans can assure solid performances each week by loading up on drivers with Roush-Yates or Hendrick power under their hoods.

This week at Kentucky Speedway I also think Brad Keselowski is a good bet and the Vegas line of 20-1 makes him an attractive longshot. Lame duck driver Matt Kenseth will have a solid race but this week I am betting on another driver to get his first win of the season…that driver is Carl Edwards.

Good luck with your fantasy racing picks this week and don’t forget to send in your pick for “Whiteboard Fantasy Racing” this week for the big race at Kentucky.

Send in your pick to win this week’s Cup race to dennis@racetalkradio.com for a chance to win a copy of the National Speedway Directory from SpeedwaysOnline.com.

 

Whiteboard Fantasy Racing Winner Last Week

Dirt Track Racing won at Sonoma

Whiteboard Fantasy Racing Top Ten After 16 Weeks

Rank

Player

Points

1

RA

34

2T

Carbon

30

2T

Gertie

30

4

LAM

29

5

Grainger

25

6

Rick

22

7

DMIC

20

8

Chris U

19

9T

Aaron C

16

9T

Mike N

16

Brad Keselowski

Weather Report

Hot and humid with a threat of thunderstorms. High temp 99F with green flag temp of 89F

If you have a question about Fantasy Racing send it to dennis@racetalkradio.com and get it answered next week. 

NASCAR by the Numbers- Lubricated by TheOilMedics.com

Using a proprietary race analysis technique we take the fans inside the numbers every week. DMIC’s rating system has been in use since 2002 and has proven to pick the contenders from the pretenders!

Consistency is King (Last Five Races)

Driver

Last 5

J Johnson

95

C Bowyer

94

M Kenseth

93

D Earnhardt Jr

92

G Biffle

90

K Harvick

90

J Gordon

90

T Stewart

89

B Keselowski

88

M Ambrose

86

 

Horses for Courses (Track Rating)

Driver

Course

J Logano

96

M Kenseth

94

D Ragan

93

B Keselowski

93

K Harvick

91

Ky Busch

91

G Biffle

90

J Johnson

90

D Hamlin

89

M Ambrose

88

 

Type Casting (Track Type Factor)

Driver

Type

J Johnson

95

B Keselowski

95

C Edwards

94

M Kenseth

92

K Harvick

92

T Stewart

90

K Kahne

90

Ku Busch

89

Ky Busch

89

D Earnhardt Jr

89

Dale Earnhardt Jr

 

Power Rating (240 Minimum to Qualify as Contender)

Driver

Power

J Johnson

280

M Kenseth

279

B Keselowski

275

K Harvick

273

G Biffle

266

T Stewart

264

C Edwards

263

C Bowyer

262

J Logano

262

D Earnhardt Jr

260

D Hamlin

260

Ky Busch

258

K Kahne

257

M Ambrose

256

R Newman

253

Ku Busch

251

D Ragan

251

J Gordon

251

P Menard

248

JP Montoya

247

M Truex

244

J Burton

242

A Almirola

241

J McMurray

239

R Smith

237

AJ Allmendinger

234

L Cassill

224

B Labonte

224

M Waltrip

223

C Mears

223

D Gilliland

220

T Kvapil

217

D Blaney

213

 

DMIC’s Fantasy Picks

Each week we will take you beyond the numbers to handicap the field from top to bottom to help your Fantasy Racing team succeed. You are also invited to join Lori Munro and I on “White Board Fantasy Racing” every Monday night on “Doin’ Donuts” at 8pm ET on RaceTalkRadio.com. Win fun prizes by picking just the race winners in our unique format. Send your picks to info@racetalkradio.com to enter. 

Top Pick (Last Week 6th)   

Carl Edwards- Will go into stands and validate everyone’s parking to celebrate win

(10 to 1 Odds) 

Best Long Shot (Odds of 20-1 or More) (Last Week 39th)     

Brad Keselowski- Strong Type Cast rating

(20 to 1 Odds)

Top Dogs (Group A in Yahoo) (Last Week 5th)      

Jimmie Johnson- Team adapts well to rule changes

(7 to 1 Odds) 

Second Class (Group B in Yahoo) (Last Week 8th)    

Dale Earnhardt Jr- Super consistent at speedways this year

(14 to 1 Odds)

Middle Packer (Group C in Yahoo) (Last Week DNQ)     

Aric Almirola- Should have a solid 15th-20th place finish

Crazy 8s for Kentucky

Each week Lori Munro and Dennis Michelsen battle in the most unique racing game around! We pick one driver each from each 8 driver group using the current points’ standings. Our picks can help you round out your fantasy racing lineup!

Last Race at Sonoma: Dennis won the matchup 3-2

Season Record: Lori leads Dennis at 9-7

 

Group 1: Dennis picks Jimmie Johnson and Lori picks Tony Stewart

Group 2: Lori picks Kyle Busch and Dennis picks Carl Edwards

Group 3: Dennis picks Kasey Kahne and Lori picks Jeff Gordon

Group 4: Lori picks Kurt Busch and Dennis picks Bobby Labonte

Group 5: Dennis picks Michael Waltrip and Lori picks David Reutimann

Do you have what it takes to handicap the races? Join Lori and Dennis every week and play in the Whiteboard Fantasy Racing Series! Send your pick for the Cup race to info@racetalkradio.com

With Current Scenario, Battle For Chase Spot Could Be Riveting

Brad Keselowski is currently in 10th place in the point standings and with two wins seems certain to make the Chase this year. But if he slips out of the top 10 and others behind him win again, his situation could well change.

As it stands now, we have a very interesting, even stimulating, situation when it comes to just which drivers are going to make NASCAR’s 2012 version of the Chase.

After Sonoma, there was a logjam of drivers scrapping for one of the 12 open positions. To be more exact, there are eight drivers in competition for one of four available spots.

The top 10 in points after the year’s 26th race, at Richmond, are automatically entered in the Chase. The remaining two, called the “wildcard” entries, are the drivers with the most wins who are ranked among the top 20 in points.

My opinion is that, currently, the drivers ranked one through nine in points seem to be secure – barring meltdowns, of course, which are always possible.

Most secure among this group are five-time champ Jimmie Johnson, fourth in points with two victories, fifth-place Tony Stewart, who also has two wins, and Denny Hamlin, ranked eighth with a couple of victories.

That each has two wins means they have solid insurance policies for the Chase, even if they slip in points.

Brad Keselowski also has two wins and he ranks 10th in points. That should be enough, but then, if he falls out of the top 10 he could be in a scramble with other drivers. After all, he’s only 11 points ahead of Carl Edwards, who presently ranks No. 11.

It’s well known that Edwards figured to be a championship contender this year after he lost the 2011 title to Stewart on the first tiebreaker in NASCAR history – Stewart have five wins, Edwards one.

Edwards could solve his dilemma by doing one of two things, or both. He certainly needs to advance in points. But wins would be very beneficial.

Edwards agrees and says his strategy is to win.

If he can’t advance in points and can’t win, Kyle Busch is ready to pounce. The Joe Gibbs driver is 12th in points, just 20 behind Edwards and, most important, he has a victory.

Lately, his racing luck has been horrendous. He suffered three consecutive blown engines before he finished 17th at Sonoma.

Still, right now, Busch has the edge. If the Chase began today he would be in and Edwards out.

But even Busch cannot be comfortable. Ryan Newman is 13th in points and has a victory at Martinsville. Joey Logano is 15th with a win at Pocono and Kasey Kahne, whose season started horribly, was triumphant at Charlotte and is 17th in points.

Another win for any of them puts Busch on the hot seat.

And this scenario intensifies the delicacy of Edwards’ position. He would be fifth in line if the Chase began today.

But the Chase hasn’t begun. Ten races remain before it does.

Anything can happen.

A driver who seems certain to make the Chase may find himself struggling to remain among the top 10 and thus have to rely on an earned win, or wins.

For example, after the race at Kansas in early June last year, Dale Earnhardt Jr. stood third in points. He had not won a race but the assumption was he was high enough in the standings to overcome that.

Five-time champion Jimmie Johnson seems almost assured of making the Chase and have a chance at a sixth title. He is fourth in points with two victories, a very comfortable spot.

He almost didn’t. He had a horrible summer. By the race at Pocono in the first week of August, he had tumbled to 10th in points and the Chase was five weeks from its beginning.

He stayed in 10th for another week, then climbed to No. 9, where he remained for four races and was his position at Richmond, the season’s 26th race.

At Richmond Earnhardt Jr. finished 16th and fell to 10th in points – he held on to survive a near meltdown.

This year he’s already gained that insurance victory and his summer has begun very well.

He had already earned more top-10 finishes than any other driver by Dover in early June. He finished fourth there, eighth at Pocono and won at Michigan, after which he was second in points, four behind Matt Kenseth.

Earnhardt fell to third in points after a 23rd-place finish at Sonoma but to be honest that was not a major surprise. He has not done particularly well at the road course.

He has never earned a top-10 finish. He’s been 11th three times.

But, consider that over the same number of summer races last year, Earnhardt Jr. fell from third to seventh in points.

Which means he’s on a much better path this year – and, certainly, his victory offers him major assurance.

On the other end of the spectrum is Jeff Gordon, a four-time champion. Not only is he distant from the top 10 in points – 18th – he doesn’t have a victory to put him in title contention.

He has 10 races to earn one. Fact is, he’s likely going to have to win twice to be a Chase player.

He thinks it’s possible and there’s no reason do doubt him.

He did win three times last year to comfortably move into the Chase – and one of them came over the summer’s10-race span that ended at Richmond. Gordon won at Atlanta.

But, this year, one win isn’t going to cut it.With so many scenarios and possibilities, it seems highly likely the competition for a spot in the Chase is going to be very keen.

That should spark a great deal of interest among fans – and the media – which should, in turn, be very beneficial for NASCAR.

Edwards Emerges As Man Of Character And Certain Future Contender

Carl-Edwards

Carl Edwards may have been very disappointed over losing the 2011 championship by such a close tiebreaker margin to Tony Stewart, but he made a very strong effort at Homestead-Miami and emerged as a gracious loser.

Carl Edwards may not have won the 2011 Sprint Cup championship, but when the season ended at Homestead-Miami Speedway, not only was his reputation as one of NASCAR’s best drivers re-enforced, he also earned respect as a gracious, magnanimous loser.

No competitor in any sport likes to lose. But how he or she reacts in defeat speaks volumes about character.

Those who respond with dignity are recognized as athletes with high character and maturity. As a result they earn respect from fans and media alike. So it is with Edwards.

Edwards was clearly disappointed after he lost the championship to Tony Stewart in what is now the closest finish in NASCAR history.

But rather than rage in defeat, Edwards did two other things. He praised Stewart’s performance, adding that the Stewart-Haas driver was determined and mentally tough.

He also said that, while he was disappointed, he had no regrets. He was satisfied that he and his Roush Fenway Racing team had done as much as possible – and that he eagerly awaited 2012 and the opportunity to win the first championship of his career.

“My guys did a great job,” Edwards said. “We pushed Tony to the end and that is all I got. That is as hard as I can drive. I think it is really important to
give Tony the credit. Those guys did a good job.

 

“I will go home and work harder for next year and be back and make it just as hard on them, hopefully harder.”

Stewart’s victory margin was as close as it could possibly be, since he and Edwards finished with 2,403 points apiece. It came down to the tiebreaker, which was the most victories during the season.

Stewart had five; Edwards only one.

Remarkably, all five of Stewart’s victories came in the Chase. He started the “playoff” ranked ninth among the 12 contenders and, given that he hadn’t won all season, was convinced he wouldn’t be a factor in the championship battle.

But Stewart surprised everyone as he won the first two races in the Chase and rose to No. 1 in points. In the space of two weeks, he rose from self-described pretender to contender.

A week later, Stewart took it on the chin, as he finished 25th at Dover and fell to third in points.

Edwards took over second place on the basis of three consecutive top-10 finishes, including a third at Dover.

Although no one knew it at the time a trend was being established. Edwards maintained his role as a challenger through consistency. He never finished worse than 11th throughout the Chase.

Stewart, meanwhile, could not match Edwards’ level of consistency. He wound up outside the top 10 in two of three races following his consecutive victories.

Edwards was the points leader after Talladega, the sixth race of the Chase, and Stewart was in fourth place, 19 points back.

Stewart then again won twice in succession, at Martinsville and Texas. Edwards, however, held on to the points lead with consistent performances.

He was just three points ahead. The stage was set for the improbable and historical finish.

What makes the final three races of the year so competitively special in this year’s championship fight is that neither Edwards nor Stewart ever faltered.

Neither gave way to the other. It was like a heavyweight championship contest in which two bloodied fighters slugged each other mercilessly – but would not go down.

When Stewart won at Texas, Edwards finished second. Edwards hit back with a runnerup finish at Phoenix that was just one position ahead of Stewart.

The final round of the fight came at Homestead-Miami where Edwards maintained his three-point advantage.

No one really bothered to do the math in order to explain any potential championship scenarios. It was simple, really. For either driver to win regardless of what the other did he had to win – repeat, he HAD to win.

Homestead-finish

Stewart took the checkered flag 1.3 seconds ahead of Edwards. It marked the third time in the last three races of the Chase that the two had finished a mere one position apart. Stewart's five wins in the Chase propelled him to his third career title.

The race itself was the perfect example of how Stewart and Edwards had performed in the Chase.

Stewart overcame adversity. Early in the race his grille was busted and work in the pits eventually relegated him to a far back as 40th place.

It could have been over. However, Stewart rebounded again, mounting a determined effort to return to the head of the pack.

Which he did. It was reported that in his charge to the front Stewart passed 116 cars.

 

He also came back from an incident in the pits when an air gun broke and forced a two-tire change instead of four – which, again, meant the loss of track position.

Edwards remained the steady, unyielding force he had been throughout the Chase. He dominated, leading more laps than any other driver, and seemed well on his way to his third Homestead victory in four years.

Simply put, he repeated just about everything he had done earlier to put him at the cusp of a championship.

Stewart’s efforts were rewarded on lap 232 when he inherited the lead after Brad Keselowski was forced to pit. Four laps later Edwards moved into second place.

That set up the race-closing duel that ended when Stewart won by 1.3 seconds over Edwards. It marked the third straight time the two had finished a race separated by a single position.

The tiebreaker made the difference. Stewart’s unexpected five-victory surge in the Chase made him the champion.

“The only good thing about tonight
is that we didn’t make any mistakes, Edwards said. “We didn’t mess up and we didn’t beat ourselves. We made Tony and those guys come out and beat us and
they did. Congratulations to him. He is the champion and he earned it.

“I learned a ton, a lot about myself and competition at this level, and I will be ready to battle it out just like this every year if I get the opportunity.”

Oh, he will. I think it’s inevitable.

There’s an old saying in racing that goes, “In order to win a championship, first you must lose one.”

Many times, not always, that has held true.

If it does so again, it could mean that when it comes to a first career title, Carl Edwards will most certainly earn it.

 

Busch Wins As Championship Race Tightens Significantly

I’m sure I’m not the only one who has reached this conclusion, but I think there’s a bit of irony that Kurt Busch took the measure of Jimmie Johnson to win the AAA 400 NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Dover International Speedway.

After all, as you know doubt remember, the two have had their on-track run-ins, followed by post-race confrontations compete with verbal barbs that were exchanged via the media.

So it might be that, at Dover, Busch may have smiled with a bit of self-satisfaction in the knowledge that he bested the guy with whom he’s been at odds for some time.

“Take that, Johnson,” he might have thought.

But, to be honest, I doubt it. It’s far more likely Busch was more caught up with his second victory of the season, and his place in the running for a championship, that he didn’t give Johnson a second thought.

As for Johnson, I doubt he gave a darn about who won. He didn’t.

He might have finished second at Dover, which was certainly disappointing after leading the most laps in a dominating performance, but in so doing he righted himself from a shaky start in the Chase. More on that later.

Busch was able to win at Dover for the first time in his career because he got the jump on a couple of late-race restarts – which proved to be Johnson’s undoing.

Johnson was the leader – which was routine for most of the race – until lap 359 of 400 on a restart from a caution period.

Mike Bliss spun off Turn 2 to bring out the ninth yellow flag and Busch, solidly in contention for most of the day, took the lead moments after the green flag flew.

Greg Biffle’s collision with the frontstretch wall on lap 361 and brought out the 10th caution period of the day. On lap 369 Busch again got away from Johnson and maintained a healthy margin of five car lengths or more until the race was over.

I wanted to get a jump on him and stretch out our lead because I thought he’d reel us back in with about 10 to go,” said Busch. “We just had to maintain to bring our Dodge to victory lane.”

For Busch, who was the 2004 champion while with Roush Fenway Racing, the victory was the 24th of his career. He led the final 42 laps of the race.

But, perhaps more important, he fully immersed himself in what is now a very tight competition for the championship. He rose from ninth in points to fourth, and is only nine points behind co-leaders Kevin Harvick, 10th at Dover, and Carl Edwards, who rebounded from a pit road speeding penalty to finish third.

After Dover, the separation between first and ninth in points is just 19 points with seven races remaining in the Chase. Just a week earlier, the margin was 26 between first and seventh. Busch was 29 points in arrears.

We are right in the mix,” said Busch, a driver for Penske Racing. “You just have to run consistent. Steve Addington (crew chief) helped tremendously because he kept making air pressure adjustments in the car and it kept coming back to us.

The first 100 laps were perfect. The last 100 laps were perfect.”

Making up the top nine in the current point standings are, in order, Harvick, Edwards, Tony Stewart, Busch, Johnson, Brad Keselowski, Matt Kenseth, Kyle Busch and Jeff Gordon. As said the margin from 1-9 is only 19 points.

The Chase is, for now, really a chase. Only two drivers have slim hopes to win the title. They are Dale Earnhardt Jr., 10th and 34 points back and Ryan Newman, 11th and trailing by 41 points, have a chance. Denny Hamlin, 12th and behind by 68 points, is essentially out of the hunt and he knows it.

Earnhardt Jr. battled car problems all day, including a malfunctioning sway bar, to finish 24th. Newman, never in contention, was 23rd. Hamlin, also a non-entity, was 18th.

Stewart won the Chase’s first two races to soar from ninth to first in points but at Dover, never one of his better tracks, he stumbled. At one point he was three laps down. He finished 25th in the AAA 400 to fall two spots in the standings.

But he’s only nine points down and still very much in it.

Meanwhile, Johnson’s performance was just what he needed to overcome a bad start in the Chase. In the first two races he finished 10th and 18th at Chicago and New Hampshire, respectively, and was 10th in points, 29 points down.

Some suggested Johnson was already finished in the Chase and would not win a sixth consecutive championship.

However, he’s rebounded from adversity before and, at Dover, he might not have won, but he put himself firmly back in contention, which is what he had to do. He’s 13 points behind the leaders.

Are we out of it?” Johnson asked sarcastically. “Last week I was considered done.

It was definitely disappointing to give up a win by not getting a good restart. I’ll think about it tonight. And I’m certainly disappointed in the fact that I didn’t take advantage of the opportunity I had up front.

But finishing second, big-picture wise, we’ll take it. It’s not the end of the world, but the restart mistake’s on me.”

In the Chase, it’s not the end of the world for at least eight other guys, either. With seven races to go we have one of the closest and most competitive scenarios in the history of NASCAR’s “playoffs.”

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